PhD in Progress, Health, 2012
NZ’s Leader In Plant Medicine.
Since founding Artemis in 1998, Sandra Clair has played a key role in the growing acceptance of plant-based medicine in New Zealand. Her latest endeavour is a PhD at UC, where she is researching ways to integrate centuries of empirical knowledge with today's pharmaceutically based regulatory approach. Her business and work are founded on a passion for natural living and self-care. “To me, plant medicine is not just a commercial opportunity. It's about lifting people up and empowering them to look after themselves.”
Tell us about your company, Artemis!
I founded Artemis in 1998. It’s New Zealand's leading plant medicine company. When I came from Switzerland I realised that there wasn't much plant medicine available here. Where I come from, they coexist with pharmaceuticals and are officially funded. Artemis has been amazingly well received. Today our health products are available New Zealand wide in pharmacies, health stores and online and we also export internationally.
What exactly are plant-based medicines?
SC: Traditional plant medicines have been mainstream medicines across all times and cultures, including in New Zealand where medical doctors were trained in plant medicine until after the Second World War. They have unique active compounds with have scientifically confirmed effectiveness in regulating biological processes to treat common ailments - including reducing anxiety, improving sleep, aiding digestion, and assisting with immunity and detoxification. Effective use of plant medicines can stop the escalation of everyday complaints into more serious health concerns or chronic illness.
You’ve won a number of business awards. What impact has that recognition had?
It's been huge. It really put a stake in the ground for us. We've had a lot of positive media throughout New Zealand. I took one of our awards to a trade show in Taiwan where I had it nicely displayed on a table. It gave us a lot of kudos. I am very humbled when we receive awards and the external recognition, along with my academic background, builds our credibility. They prove that there is scientific rigour and expertise behind our health products,
Why do you think natural medicine is important in today’s world?
I see the enormous benefit that plant medicine can bring to human health. Due to their positive contribution in preventing and treating diseases safely and effectively they are government-funded in many healthcare systems, for example Switzerland. In their last strategy, the World Health Organisation calls onto the international community to integrate plant medicine back into mainstream medicine to address the many issues that cannot be treated well by pharmaceutical drugs. When people are healthy, they’re more productive members of our society. Good health is our biggest asset. It is the foundation of a fruitful and happy life. And plant medicine is a very effective vehicle to achieve that.
You’re a PhD candidate now. What’s your research topic?
My research is around how to integrate plant-based medicine into a contemporary evidence-based healthcare system. It's about finding a way to use the huge body of medical knowledge that already exists around the effectiveness of natural medicine. Because this previous information hasn’t been gained from the controlled trial approach we use today, my challenge is to assure policymakers that this existing body of empirical knowledge, which is the backbone of all medical systems, including biomedicine, is indeed evidence-based.
What impact would you like to have with your research?
I would really like to help facilitate an appropriate approach to the regulation of plant-based medicines. The current system does not work as we cannot openly talk about the benefits of plant medicines, nor is there a way to integrate them formally into our public health system. The big conundrum is how we link the existing body of traditional medical knowledge and special manufacturing requirements for plant medicines with the newer pharmaceutical regulatory model. With regulation, consumers will have better access to these natural medicines, will be able to use plant-based medicine with confidence and the strain on our healthcare system can be eased.
You’ve studied at a number of universities, why did you choose to pursue your PhD at UC?
I had been thinking about the issue of how to approach the regulation of traditional medicines for a long time, but I hadn't known how to tackle the methodology. It was through UC that I had access to experts who could help me with that issue. Having access to the tools and expertise I needed to put the project together has been absolutely life changing. I have felt incredibly encouraged to do this research at UC.
It sounds like a very supportive environment to work in.
This is a new area of investigation. Having received a UC scholarship to do this work and the encouragement from my supervisors has really highlighted to me that UC is a genuinely progressive university. They are very ready to support groundbreaking research. They have backed the project because of the positive impact it can have in New Zealand. I have really appreciated the expertise and support at UC. It has been a good choice!
Any advice for professionals returning to get their PhD?
Don't be shy! Ask for as much help as you need. A lot of time had passed between getting my Masters and my PhD, and the field of academics had changed completely. I was often emailing and phoning Student Services and my supervisors with questions, and it was never a problem. Everybody can do it. They just have to ask.
What are you most proud of in life?
I'm really proud of having helped to reintroduce plant medicine as a tool of healthcare in New Zealand society. When I first came here, it was hardly known and very misunderstood. I think I have helped to correct people’s perceptions and given plant medicine back its rightful place in contemporary healthcare. To me, plant medicine is not just a commercial opportunity . It's about lifting people up and empowering them to look after themselves.